The first written mention of Hartley is in the Domesday Book compiled in 1086 on orders of William I after his conquest of England. In it, are listed most villages and towns in the southern part of England and it can be inferred that “Erclei”, as Hartley was recorded, was a small village with around 60 inhabitants with some woods and arable land. The name of Hartley means “a clearing in the wood where the deer are”. Much wooded area remains in the parish.
Previous occupation in this area can only be deduced from archaeological evidence. Some small Romano-British settlements have been found in the Longfield and Fawkham Valleys where the land is more fertile than the clay with flints subsoil which extends over most of Hartley. Romano-British remains have been found at Wellfield in the northern part of the parish where the clay with flints has been eroded away to reveal the underlying lighter soils which were more suitable to early agriculture. Hartley Wood is perhaps a remnant of the landscape which extended over most of the parish in ancient times.
Hartley Church is mentioned in the list of churches in the Diocese of Rochester dated to about 1115. This document is generally believed to list those churches existing in the late Saxon period. All Saints’ Parish Church is Hartley’s oldest building where both the north and south walls together with the south door and two small windows at the western end of the nave date from about 1100. Since then, it has been in continuous use as a place of worship and the list of rectors extends back to 1287. Evidence of what Hartley was like during the medieval period is scanty but it probably remained a small scattered farming community throughout medieval times. To the south, there was a small settlement at Chapel Wood which was wiped out during the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century. This is one of Hartley’s archaeological sites.
By the Reformation, it is clear that several farms existed in the area. Apart from the Lord of the Manor’s farm at what is now called Hartley Court, there were large farms at Fairby (now a private residential home for the elderly) , New House (now part of New Ash Green), Hartley Manor, Middle Farm, Mintmakers and Stocks Farm. Smaller holdings were centred on Woodins, Hartley Hill Cottage, Goldsmiths Cottage, Hartley Wood Corner, Hartley Bottom Farm, Whiffins Cottage and Goodwins Cottage. During the 17th and 18th centuries several new properties were built and these include Hartley Cottage, Yew Tree Cottage and the Black Lion. By the first national census in 1801, the population of Hartley had increased to 151 people occupying 23 dwellings. Apart from Mintmakers destroyed by a fire in the mid 19th century and rebuilt shortly after, New House Farm which was demolished in 1965, and Whiffins Cottage which was destroyed in the last war, all the above buildings remain and contain historic features.
The 19th Century
During the 19th century, the population had increased further to 284 in 1901 with additional buildings near the Green in Castle Hill, along the Ash Road near the Black Lion and at Fairby and New House Farm. It is unfortunate that many of theses have undergone considerable alterations in recent years. An analysis of the census returns, carried out every ten years from 1801, shows that the main occupations were in agriculture with a few craftsmen like a blacksmith, wheelwright and thatcher.
In 1841, Hartley School was established in new premises at Hartley Green on land that formed part of Middle Farm. The railway line from London through Longfield to the Medway Towns and the coast was opened in 1861 and the station at Longfield ten years later. A retired army officer, Colonel Hartley decided to make his home here in 1870’s and built an opulent mansion at Old Downs. It is now a private residential home for the elderly. Although, the parish vestry was the main arm of local government since at least the Tudor period, the first step in the provision of district government services occurred when Hartley became part of the Dartford Union in early 19th century with the provision of some medical and social security services. The Parish Meeting, the forerunner of the Parish Council was established in 1894.
The 20th Century
Hartley at the start of the 20th century was still an agricultural community. One large estate, Hartley Court and Hartley Manor was being offered for sale with extensive woodland and shooting rights but remained unsold. Eventually in 1912, this estate and the Fairby Farm estate was bought by a firm called “Small Owners Limited”. This firm parcelled up the land into 3 to 6 acre plots and encouraged new comers to settle, build their own houses, run their own small holding and travel to London to work from the newly rebuilt station at Longfield. For example, Frank Tate, author of the History of Hartley Parish Council came with his parents in 1912 from Beckenham. Several houses date from this period including Glebe House, the Red House and Owaissa all in Ash Rd and Ashleigh in Church Rd and Johns in Johns Close. Several plots were purchased by Miss Davies Cooke who founded the Roman Catholic Oratory of St Francis de Sales at Middle Farm in 1913.
After the “Great War”, development continued unabated during the 1920’s with the construction of more houses and bungalows. Several men from Hartley served in the First World War and some did not return. Their names are recorded on the War Memorial which was a focus of remembrance on each Armistice Day before the Second World War.
With the influx of new people in the village, societies were established. These include the Hartley Women’s Institute (1921), the Hartley Country Club (1926), the Hartley Players (1926) and the Hartley Social Club (1934). The Hartley Congregational Church was founded in 1927 and the First Hartley Scout Group was registered in 1928. Mains water reached the village in 1902 and electricity during 1930s. Between 1923 and 1938, a fine parish magazine giving details of parish life was produced by Rev G W Bancks and his successors, after his death.
This period came to an abrupt end in September 1939 and again the village suffered with the loss of some of its finest men. Aerial combat took place in the skies over Hartley and one of the village’s historic houses, Whiffins Cottage, was destroyed when a Hurricane crashed into it.
The Period after World War II
After the war, the village recovered and development resumed. New roads like Green Way and Springcroft soon appeared and existing roads such as Woodland Avenue, Fairby Lane and Gorse Way were soon filled with houses and bungalows. New houses and new people required more infrastructure. Main drainage was installed, roads widened and tarmaced, electricity and water supplies enhanced. Hartley School was rebuilt in the 1960’s on a new site. The restructuring of the railway bridge at Longfield in 1966 opened up this area for further development. At about the same time “A New Village at Hartley”, as it was then called by Richard Crossman, Minister of Housing, was created on a proposed extension to the “Metropolitan Green Belt” and is now known as New Ash Green.
Land in the north of the Hartley was acquired by the local housing authority, and construction of a major housing estate at Wellfield began in 1975 and is now managed by the West Kent Housing Association. This development contains more than 450 dwellings. Also a private development, known as Bramblefield, just north of Longfield Station was constructed in the 1980s and 1990’s for the over 50s. It contains about 150 dwellings.